Senate Bill 1964, which was authored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would give the Texas A&M University board of regents the authority to use or lease land in W.G. Jones State Forest for the construction of buildings or improvements for multipurpose uses, such as academic, research and private commercial uses.
Creighton said in a statement Monday he is asking for a hearing in the Legislature to discuss the merits of a request by Texas A&M University to use between 5 percent and 10 percent of land on the southern end of Jones State Forest near Hwy. 242 for educational purposes in the fields of forestry and engineering.
“This is a Texas A&M request for Texas A&M use within a Texas A&M asset,” he said in the letter. “Whether or not the university uses a portion of the forest should be a public discussion. My intent with Senate Bill 1964 was to honor the request to begin this conversation.”
As of midday Tuesday, more than 5,400 people had signed a petition on www.change.org against SB 1964 calling to protect the forest. A Facebook group called “No Development at WG Jones Forest” was also formed and has more than 700 members.
Montgomery County resident Cheryl Conley said she was shocked when she saw a copy of the proposed legislation, which was filed earlier this month.
“The forest is a very nice little piece of heaven right within the urban environment,” she said. “We just don’t need any more buildings and concrete.”
In response to the resident concerns, Creighton released another statement on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, stating he announced his intention to remove the language regarding commercial usage from the bill. His comments also said he is considering adding a conservation easement to protect the remaining 90 percent of the forest from being developed for anything other than its current use.
Creighton said he released his letter Monday to clarify the intent of the bill, which he said was filed to begin a public conversation through the state Legislature.
“As an eighth-generation Montgomery County resident, I cherish the big thicket, natural timberland and foliage, including the wildlife that occupies the forest,” Creighton said. “I am not interested in clearing the forest or destroying any wildlife.”
Representatives from the Texas A&M Forest Service said they are aware of the legislation but, as members of a state agency, they educate and inform and cannot advocate for or against a bill. The Texas A&M Forest Service manages the Jones State Forest for education and demonstration purposes.
The forest, which was acquired in the 1920s by Texas A&M University’s forestry department, occupies 1,722 acres of land in The Woodlands area, near Hwy. 242 and FM 1488 and several miles west of I-45. It is also home to a population of the red-cockaded woodpecker, which is a federally listed endangered species, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Approximately 100,000 people visit the state forest annually, whether it is for environmental learning opportunities, recreational opportunities or special attractions, according to the forest service.